XXX: Spiced Up Chicken Salad

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With the very last of our warm weather, we’ve been using the grill basically every day, and this meal was no different. Since I first came up with this dish, we’ve had it at least three times and it is definitely a new house staple.

Ingredients:
1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs
1-2 tsp za’atar
1-2 tsp harissa
2 tsp high quality oil (olive or avocado)

For Salad:
1/2 cup sugar-free mayo or to taste
1 tsp dried tarragon
1/2 sweet yellow onion, finely chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

In a mixing bowl, drizzle oil over chicken thighs. Add harissa and za’atar and mixed gently until coated well. Grill on medium heat until cooked through (or oven roast at 425*F for about 20 minutes). If you are grilling chicken specifically for this recipe, let the meat cool completely and refrigerate for at least an hour before chopping – you don’t want the onions to soften or the mayo to melt! I specifically made extra so I’d have leftovers to make this spiced up chicken salad for lunch the next day, so I’m working with meat right out of the fridge.

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To a large bowl, add chopped 1/2 of a sweet yellow or Walla Walla onion. I highly recommend chopping the onion quite fine, I don’t think I went small enough and ended up with lots of mayo-covered onion at the bottom of the bowl (though The Boyfriend did not seem to mind this and cleaned out both plates).

Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, coarsely chop chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces and add to the chopped onion. I have been relying on my squeeze-tube mayo lately, but I am estimating that I used about 3/4 cup. This really comes down to personal preference, so add a little bit at a time, stirring and tasting until you get to your desired consistency and flavor. Season with salt, pepper, and tarragon to taste and mix well.

Serve immediately or refrigerate until serving. Recommend eating within 24-36 hours.

Sweet Hundos: Oven-Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce

Mmm saucy!
Mmm saucy!

Courtesy of our lovely next-door neighbors, late last week I found myself with close to four pounds of cherry tomatoes in the kitchen, mostly of the irresistibly orange Sweet 100 variety. We couldn’t possibly eat them all, and soup was out of the question – have you ever peeled that many tiny tomatoes? I certainly wasn’t going to. So here it is, oven-roasted cherry tomato sauce: so good, I literally ate half the jar before it had cooled enough to put away.

For this recipe, you will need: 
Large baking pan (glass recommended)
Food processor
Heat-safe jar (glass recommended)
Plastic bags for freezing (optional)

Ingredients:
2-3 lbs cherry tomatoes (Sweet 100, or other variety)
6-8 cloves garlic, peeled
1-2 tsp onion powder
2-3 tbsp high quality oil (olive or avocado)
~ 0.5 oz fresh basil (10-15 g)

Gently remove stems from all tomatoes and rinse with cold water (I saw a hobo spider while out in the garden, so I made sure to wash them really well).

Pour 1-2 tbsp oil in a glass pan, tilting the pan to cover most of the bottom. Add tomatoes, garlic, onion powder, and an additional 1-2 tbsp of oil and carefully toss – you want to be gentle so the tomatoes don’t break, but you also want them to be coated with the onion powder and in a flat layer.

Roast in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until tomatoes are soft and wrinkly and liquid is lightly boiling. Remove from oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes.

Oven ready!

Oven ready!

Transfer full contents of the pan (including any liquid) to a food processor. Add fresh basil, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. Blend for 1-2 minutes or until desired texture is reached (some people like it chunky, but I like it pretty smooth).

Transfer sauce to a heat safe container like a mason jar and let cool before storing in the fridge.

Serve with… basically everything. I put it in my roast chicken and even in a sausage and pepper stir-fry! Or just eat it with a spoon, ’cause it’s really that good.

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This recipe makes about one quart of sauce. Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week or frozen in a ziplock bag for 1-2 months (to defrost, place bag in a bowl of warm water).

Grad School Life

Our new kitchen! (aka Slow Carb Snacktime headquarters)
Our new kitchen! (aka Slow Carb Snacktime headquarters)

Am I the worst? I’m kind of the worst. It’s been almost two months since I’ve last posted, but between the new house, starting grad school, and heading back to Philly for two weeks, it’s been pretty crazy around here! In addition to the insanity of life, if you’ve been following me on Facebook, you know that we just got our (absolutely amazing) new refrigerator this past week – yup, we spent the first six weeks living out of a mini fridge… hence, no new recipes (there was no room!)

Don’t worry though, I’m back now! I’ve got a bunch of new recipes in the works (slow carb, keto, and even cheat day), plus a few new guest posts to keep things interesting, and my first academic paper to share!

Hopefully this will keep you guys busy until I get my new dishes in order:

This is my first academic research paper for my graduate program and I am so excited that I was able to write about a topic I am already so passionate about. It’s definitely fueled the fire to keep me on track with my personal health and fitness journey and I’m really looking forward to continuing my research on the subject of diet and chronic illness -

Cause and Effect – An examination of diet and its role in chronic illness

Guest Post: Deadlifts & Discoveries

As some of you already know, The Boyfriend and I are moving this weekend, which means my kitchen(s) will be in shambles for the next few days and new recipes will be on hold. Thankfully, my lovely friend Molly, creator and author of Deadlifts & Discoveries, is here to save the day and keep you guys busy until I have something new to share. Until then, Happy 4th of July! Have a fantastic weekend, please be safe, please drink responsibly, and please please PLEASE DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE.

So lately I’ve had great success from tracking my food intake and keeping an eye on my macros. While I have no issues experimenting with my own body, I’m grateful to have someone else with a bit more experience to share her story and fill in the blanks.

I absolutely love Molly’s approach, even though it’s not 100% slow carb. Personally, I try to eat between 80-90% of my TDEE and aim for 1g of protein and 0.5g of fat per pound of bodyweight, you already know I’m shooting for as little sugar as possible, but I understand that isn’t the case for everyone and I’m not here to tell you what you’re doing is wrong (unless it’s really really wrong). Even though it’s not slow carb, I think it’s good to understand all facets of fitness and nutrition so you can make an educated decision. Let’s see what Molly has to say about that.

 

From Ms. Deadlifts & Discoveries herself:

“Hello from the Right Coast! Our lovely blogess here has asked me to do a guest post about calculating and tracking macros and calories for performance, for aesthetics, for whatever you like. I am not a registered, licensed, certified, professional, expert anything; just a girl with a passion for health and lifting, and a compulsive reading habit. I come from a very disordered eating background, but I did learn how to weigh, approximate, and track food early on. Not healthfully, but at least I was accurate.

I meticulously track everything I eat. Rather than punishing myself harshly anytime I went over my goal of zero calories (you read that right. I aimed for literally no food every single day from the age of 14 to 20), now I track to ensure that I’m getting the most out of every last one of the many calories I put in my body and making sure it’s enough to allow me to squat more than my bodyweight for reps, run a 5k, climb trees, haul 500lbs of bricks, summit a mountain with a full pack. I’m a 5’3″, 119lb girl and I eat more than the average adult male, and I lose fat and inches doing it. I attribute my high caloric needs solely to heavy lifting, as muscle burns calories just by existing. More muscle means more food. More food means I’m less likely to smother my boyfriend with a pillow when he starts snoring. Not to mention that I look and feel the best I ever have in my life, and a million times better than my 108lb high school foolishness.

Calculating and detailing my training and diet is one of my favorite pastimes, no joke. I’m a total data junkie, and love to analyze, compare, contrast, make graphs, note trends, integrate other data, and organize things.

All that said, I’m not incredibly obsessive about it. Nor do I need to be. I figure life is hard enough, why stress about it if 10g of carbs come from pretzels in hot sauce and not a sweet potato sometimes? Why freak out if my macro ratio ends up at 42% fats and not 45%? “Close enough” keeps me sane, as long as it truly is close enough. It’s a balance, a tightrope walk, to find that line between being effective and not driving yourself nuts.

So let’s get down to the part you care about. Macronutrients are basically what food is made of. They consist of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. I could get into how there’s 4 calories per gram of protein, 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate, and 9 calories per gram of fat, but truthfully, that’s too technical for me. To me, ice cream and vodka are macros too (actually, alcohol sugars are technically a macro, but that’s another post entirely) and I budget them into my caloric bills.

If I were to apply the trendy terms to how I feed my body, I would be a primal intermittent fasting clean eater following 85/15 IIFYM HFLCish. What. In layman’s terms, I’m too lazy to get up to make breakfast, so I just have liquids until about 7pm (coffee, water, BCAAs for training, protein shake). I eat what I like, which is mostly meat, dairy, fresh produce, and nuts. Yup. I actually like foods as close to their natural state as possible. I focus on getting protein up early, followed by fats. Around midnight, I’ll have a few hundred calories left, so I’ll indulge in whatever I want, in the healthiest way I can. Usually. Sometimes it’s nachos (local organic grass-fed cheese, homemade salsa, beans, some kind of leafy green, some meat, organic hot sauce, avocado on regular tortilla chips), sometimes it’s a half pint of Ben & Jerry’s, sometimes it’s a PB&J on Ezekiel bread. This is what works for me. It won’t work for everyone, mentally or physically. The details of my diet aren’t particularly important, other than to illustrate that you don’t need to eat a bodybuilding contest prep diet of tilapia, chicken breast, and broccoli day in and day out, nor do you need to 1200 calories a day to get a fit body.

I’ve developed my own little nuances and found some tweaks that suited me better over the years, but Calorie Tracking 101 is pretty simple and all encompassing.

First, determine your caloric needs. There’s a million ways to do this; I prefer to use a combination of several online calculators, and two additional formulas specifically for athletes, then average them out to get a general idea (google “TDEE calculator”, try out a few and see what you get; I use the IIFYM and Scooby’s Workshop calculators primarily. Try them at the lowest activity option in the list as well as what you would estimate your level to be and average those four numbers and set the goal as maintenance where applicable. That number is the calories you burn in your everyday life, walking, eating, digesting, breathing, pooping, exercising, dancing while brushing your teeth, etc. If you eat that number for a few weeks, you’ll see how your body responds. If you gain weight, it’s too much. Lose weight, it’s too little. Adjust that number according to your goals: If you want to get big and strong, you’ll need to eat more than that number (350 calories more per day is the general starting point). If you want to lose fat, you’ll need to eat less (again, about 350 is a pretty good starting place). Note: don’t even think about “eating back calories burned”. You’ll only confuse yourself and end up back where you started. Keep it simple.

Next is macros. Again, a million ways to calculate this. Some people say 0.8g protein per kilogram of body weight, some say 2g per pound of bodyweight, some say you’ll have a heart attack if you go over 35g of fat… it’s pretty personal. Fats are a bit more important for women, especially those seeking low body fat, as they directly control hormonal response. I eat a minimum of 100g of fat per day and my recent bloodwork came back “perfect”. My LDL is lower than my HDL by a few points. My blood pressure is stable and “very acceptable,” according to my doctor. Fats aren’t the enemy. Protein is the necessary building block for muscle. If you’re trying to get big and strong, that’s what you need. If you’re trying to cut body fat while preserving muscle, you’ll want a lot of that. Carbohydrates provide energy. If you’re a runner, or a nurse on your feet all day, don’t be afraid to carb up. It’s a very personal ratio. If you have no idea where to start, try for a 33/33/33% split and play with it. Remember that it does take time to see changes, so be sure to stick with each variation for at least 3 weeks or so.

Once you’ve gotten the numbers you need, then you need to put them to work. I use the free app MyFitnessPal. While not dead accurate, it’s again, close enough. Note: the preset “goals” in the app are absolute BS; take the time to put in your own calorie/macro goals. Some people prefer pen and paper, or a different app. Whatever allows you to look at hard data. For the first few months, it’s easiest to slightly inconvenience yourself and weigh everything you eat. You’ll soon be able to estimate pretty accurately how much of a certain food is present, and about how many calories it is. But in the beginning, be as anal as you possibly can about it without driving yourself bonkers. Be honest about what you’ve eaten, don’t lie to the app and expect results, and accept that you’ll see red “you messed this up” notifications sometimes.

That’s it. Calculate, log, progress. Over time, you’ll learn to eat almost intuitively, realize your problem areas, and find alternative solutions. Experiment. You won’t do irreversible damage. What worked for that IFBB pro on Instagram won’t necessarily work for you, and what works for you won’t necessarily work for me. Be patient, but be honest and critical of your progress. You’ll learn what your body wants and needs, and when you should differentiate between the two.”

Here's my proof. January 21, 2014 to today, one picture per month. In the first three, I weighed about 120lbs and was eating about 1700 calories a day. Somewhere shortly after the third picture, I bumped them up to 2200 and got very skinny very fast. In the fourth picture, I weighed 127lbs and was "dirty bulking" at 3000 calories a day! Picture number 5 is two weeks into a cut at 2200 again, and the last picture is today, at 119lbs and 2100 calories a day. My weight is almost identical in the first and last pictures, but what a difference!

Here’s my proof. January 21, 2014 to today, one picture per month. In the first three, I weighed about 120lbs and was eating about 1700 calories a day. Somewhere shortly after the third picture, I bumped them up to 2200 and got very skinny very fast. In the fourth picture, I weighed 127lbs and was “dirty bulking” at 3000 calories a day! Picture number 5 is two weeks into a cut at 2200 again, and the last picture is today, at 119lbs and 2100 calories a day. My weight is almost identical in the first and last pictures, but what a difference!

Cold Brew Coffee

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I’m not sure where you’re reading this from, but it’s about as hot as the seventh layer of hell in Oregon right now and the last thing I want on a 97* day is hot coffee. Surviving without coffee however, is hardly an option. The choices here are limited: my beloved Stumptown Cold Brew is close to $4 a pop, Starbucks isn’t much cheaper (and I don’t have a car yet), and day-old coffee out of the refrigerator is… meh. So what’s a caffeine-deprived girl to do!? Set up some homemade cold brew.

I’m not usually one to go into all the cheesy descriptive words with my food, but there is something so satisfying about cold brew coffee that your regular iced coffee just doesn’t quite hit. It’s concentrated, but not bitter, and has the creamy sweetness you might find in a really high quality piece of dark chocolate. Drink slowly and appreciate every sip, ’cause that mouthfeel is addicting! Thankfully, this is super easy to make.

You will need: 
1 large glass bowl
1 large glass pitcher
1 fine mesh strainer (small)
plastic wrap
soup ladle (small)

Ingredients: 
8-9 ounces ground coffee (by weight, not volume)
7 cups cold water

To a large glass bowl, add eight ounces ground coffee of your choice (use nine ounces if you like, but it’s a little too bitter for me) – I’m using Trader Joe’s Peaberry. Cover with seven cups cold water and stir until all grounds are soaked. Tightly cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a shaded area at room temperature for 12 up to 24 hours – I usually let it go for the whole 24.

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Set up a pitcher with a fine mesh strainer over the opening, you can use a coffee filter in addition to the strainer if you have the patience, but I do not. Using a small ladle, scoop the coffee concentrate into the pitcher through the strainer until you can no longer press any liquid out of the grounds.

Cover with lid and refrigerate for up to one week.

Serve with unsweetened vanilla almond milk or dairy-substitute of choice. Remember that this is a coffee concentrate so you do need to break it up with something else, luckily this means that ice cubes will smooth out your beverage rather than watering it down.

Enjoy!

Conflict-Free Wings

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With flavors stemming from North Africa and the Middle East, I wanted to bring all these herbs and spices together without stirring up any trouble so for the sake of enjoying a good meal, any debate on the origin of flavors or other political discussions end here.

Somewhat inspired by the za’atar skillet bread The Boyfriend and I were fortunate enough to try at Willi’s Wine Bar on our recent trip to California, the marinade for these wings comes together very quickly and is practically impossible to stop licking off your fingers (before you touch the raw chicken of course).

You Will Need: 
1 large baking sheet
1 cutting board
1 large bowl
1 medium bowl or large ziplock bag
1 small bowl
1 very sharp knife or cleaver
1 rubber spatula
1 pair boning tweezers or equivalent

Ingredients: 
2 lbs whole bone-in chicken wings (about 10 wings)
5 tbsp high-quality olive or avocado oil
4 cloves garlic, minced or cubes
2 tsp lemon juice

Seasoning: 
2 heaping tbsp za’atar
2 heaping tsp harissa
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp salt

Place the wings in a large bowl, cover with cold water, and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine all herbs and seasoning with 2 tsp lemon juice and 5 tbsp oil. Using a fork, stir until mixture resembles a paste. Set aside.

Cutting board: Using boning tweezers or equivalent, remove any feathers left behind on the wings. Split each wing from the drumstick at the joint with a very sharp knife or cleaver. Add split wings to a clean bowl.

Making this recipe a few times is actually what inspired me to pick up this little thing

Making this recipe a few times is actually what inspired me to pick up this little thing

Using a rubber spatula, toss wings with marinade-paste until all wings are coated. Transfer to ziplock bag or cover bowl with foil, refrigerate for at least four hours.

Remove wings from refrigerator about 30 minutes before baking, this ensures the meat will cook evenly.

Pre-heat oven to 410*F and cover baking sheet with foil.

Arrange wings on baking sheet skin side up and bake for 20 minutes. After the first 20 minutes, turn the wings so they are facing skin side down and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Set oven to broil, flip wings one last time so they are skin side up, and broil for 3-5 minutes to get the skin nice and crispy.

Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

Homegrown Summer Ghee

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I’m sure by now you have heard plenty about clarified butter. No? Let me explain, ’cause it’s pretty wonderful. Clarified butter, also known as ghee, is made by separating milk solids from butterfat and removing them. This Yahoo article sums it up quite nicely: “A staple of Ayurvedic medicine and Indian cuisine, ghee is made by heating butter until the milk solids are separated and then removed, meaning it’s not dairy, just fat—mostly saturated—which is essential to brain health, muscle recovery, and immunity.” … “It’s ideal for cooking at high heat (less prone than olive oil to go rancid when crisping or frying). And, with a rich, nutty flavor, it’s delicious on everything from lobster to Brussels sprouts.”

Now that you know the truth, it’s easy to see why the dairy-free product has become so popular with slow carb and paleo eaters. The best part is… it’s ridiculously easy to make. I’ve made clarified butter before, it really is quite simple, but I tried a few new things this time and it’s pretty damn hard not to eat this batch straight off a spoon!

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Putting my little garden to work! Fresh homegrown basil.

Appliances/Equipment: 
1 large pot
1 fine mesh strainer (small)
1-2 ice cube trays
1 sealable container (preferably glass)
Measuring Teaspoon
Measuring cup or small pitcher
Large bowl or pitcher with pouring spout

Ingredients: 
~ 1 lb grass-fed butter, unsalted
4 oz fresh basil (bonus points if it’s homegrown!!)

Cut butter into chunks and add to a clean pot. Over medium-low heat, melt butter until completely liquefied, stirring often to prevent burning. While the butter is melting, rinse basil with cold water. Gently pat/roll dry with a paper towel and remove all leaves from the stems – I do this by lightly pinching the base of the leaf between my thumb and forefinger and it just pops right off; discard the stems.

Lay the leaves out and pat both sides dry again. Using your hands, tear the basil into small pieces – small enough to fit several into each individual ice cube mold (but don’t throw them in yet).

Once the butter has melted completely, remove it from the heat. Set up your strainer or a piece of cheesecloth over a large bowl or pitcher and pour the liquid through – this is the first step in separating the milk solids from the butterfat.

Now, set the strainer over a measuring cup and pour butter through again – you don’t actually need to measure anything here, I just found my measuring cup to be the best shape for the steps that follow.

At this point, you should see the butter start to separate – the milk solids will sink to the bottom while the butterfat will float to the top. Using a measuring teaspoon, layer a small amount of the butterfat only into the bottom of each ice cube mold. On top of this base layer, place a small piece of basil. Cover with butter and repeat the butter-basil layering process until all the cubes are full – I think I got 8-10 pieces of basil in each one, possibly more. Remember to only use the butterfat for this, the idea is to keep it separate from the milk solids!

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So I used an entire pound of butter for this and ran out of ice cube trays. If you encounter the same problem, you can repeat the layering process on a larger scale in any container with a lid, but glass is preferable. Remember to put a layer of the butterfat in first so the basil doesn’t stick to the container.

Place ice cube trays in the refrigerator until the ghee solidifies – at least 12 hours. You can toss them into the freezer just like that, or if you are lazy like me, bang them all out at once and store them in the freezer in a ziplock bag for easy access later on.

Enjoy!

I’ve already used these little ghee cubes a few times and they paired wonderfully with my Saturday Morning Shakshuka and my Thai-ish Spicy Peanut Chicken.